Farm Food Facts

Looking Ahead to the Future of Dairy: Collaboration & Innovation

February 01, 2021 USFRA Episode 101
Farm Food Facts
Looking Ahead to the Future of Dairy: Collaboration & Innovation
Show Notes Transcript

Today, it's all about dairy and with us today is Marilyn Hershey, a dairy farmer who operates a 600 cow dairy farm in Pennsylvania with her husband, Duane. She serves as the chair at Dairy Management, Inc. And is also a published author. She's the secretary of the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association Speaker's Bureau and serves on the national dairy promotion and research board among other various community organization . Marilyn recently joined the USFRA board of directors in 2020. 

Phil: 0:05

US Farmers and Ranchers in action would like to recognize the sponsors of the 2020 Honor The Harvest Forum. Welcome to Farm Food Facts for January 27th, 2021. I'm your host, Phil Lempert. Today, it's all about dairy and it should be. As many of you have heard me say many times before my grandfather is a dairy farmer in Bellville , New Jersey. Um, I grew up not on the farm itself, but when the farm was closed, we still had all the barns and everything else. So when it comes to dairy, my heart is there. So with us today is Marilyn Hershey, a dairy farmer who operates a 600 cow dairy farm in Pennsylvania with her husband, Duane. She serves as the chair at Dairy Management, Inc. And is also a published author. She's the secretary of the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association Speaker's Bureau and serves on the national dairy promotion and research board among other various community organization . Marilyn recently joined the USFRA board of directors in 2020. Welcome Marilyn to the board and welcome to Farm Food Facts.

Marilyn: 1:20

Thank you. It's great to be here. I appreciate it.

Phil: 1:23

So, Marilyn, I hate to start this conversation this way, but how has COVID affected dairy?

Marilyn: 1:33

Well, you know, I think we all saw , um, early on, there were some really , um , uh, there were a lot effects in the stores. You know, people were in a panic, people were fear buying. Um, and, and I had a neighbor that purchased seven gallons of milk and had them in freezer just because she wasn't sure, you know, was she have milk and the next week to feed her family. So I, you know, off the bat, we saw a lot of , um, uh, things happening in the grocery stores. That's where we saw that , uh, you know, food service is a, you know, they use a lot of dairy and we rely on them. They use real dairy. Um, they use real cream, they use a lot of butter. They use a lot of milk and there's a lot of cheese in food service. And so there's, there's a tremendous amount of dairy products that are used in food service. And you look at across the board and across the country and realize how many of these restaurants are shut down or were shut down early on. And, and it, it did impact us a tremendous amount. Um, and we were able to , uh, one thing that checkoff was able to do is , uh, one thing we saw was , uh, stores and grocery stores were putting limits on how much milk that that consumers could buy. And so we were able to call them and tell them, look, we have the milk . There's not a limit that you will get milk to put on yourself. Please do not limit people , um , for the amount, because it just, it just added to the fear.

Phil: 3:17

Absolutely. And you know, that that's an important lesson that was learned out of this for you to be able to reach out and communicate to those retailers and say, you know, don't limit it, we've got the supply. What are some of the other lessons that you've learned as a result of the pandemic?

Marilyn: 3:36

You know, one of the lessons I think about so much is , uh , the relationships. So we had relationships that were already established with feeding America. We had relationships that were established with , um, the food service partners that we have , uh, you know, pizza was, was a food that , that people still bought pizza, bought it, take out , we're able to get it take out. And we were able to work with our partners and do some extra promotions. Um, pizza hut in particular, did a promotion gave away , um, a ton of pieces gave away a pizza to every senior that graduated. Um, and it was a promotion deal with pizza hut and with the dairy farmers. Um, so, you know, we had, we , we just had to , we went to each one of our partners and talk to them. Is there anything special we can do? Is there anything extra we can do? And so through food service that we're still operating, so McDonald's pizza hut, taco bell , um, they, they all and dominoes , they all, you know , stepped up. Uh, we also did, did a couple of other pizza places that we don't typically have a, a ongoing , uh, partnership with, but we were able to through COVID. And , um, if I can just for a minute go back to feeding America, that was a critical relationship for us to already have established because they saw a huge increase and in demand in their , uh , food banks. And we were able to work with them and move a significant volume of milk through there, through feeding America.

Phil: 5:23

So, and I agree with you. I love feeding America. I think they do. Um, and, and certainly during COVID have done a phenomenal job , uh, they really have , um, when, when you're talking, what comes to mind is probably the only benefit of the pandemic has been collaboration that I've seen, whether it's farmers, ranchers , retailers, feeding America, everybody working together so much more , uh , than I've ever seen in, in my career. Are you seeing the same thing?

Marilyn: 6:00

I would say absolutely. And, and it goes back to , um, you know, having those relationships in place. It gave us the ability to really work and get things done at a , at a much faster pace at a much stronger pace than if we would've had to call feeding America and establish that relationship right off the bat. Um, but absolutely people were , um, you know, people were, you know, I'll get back to go to schools, just pivot the schools just for a minute. You know, when you look at schools and, you know, all of a sudden these children who are food insecure are not in the building to get there , to get their milk and , and food. So, you know, we worked with an organization. We have , um, called gen youth and they worked with schools and USDA actually , uh , lifted the, the , um, requirement for, you know, a certain volume being served in schools. And they let us be able to serve whatever volume we could get into a school. And so children were able to go home with, you know, a half a gallon of milk, as opposed to a single serve. And, you know, you know, just, just to be able to get food into their hands was just a true collaborative effort across, across every, you know, everybody was agreeable. Everybody wants to be able to help those children and get dairy into their hands.

Phil: 7:34

Yeah. You know, I love the example that you just gave , um, having, you know, a school kid being able to bring a half a gallon of milk home to , to their family that I don't want to say they're starving, but they're food insecure. I really think that over the past year , um , so much of food insecurity, so much of immunity, so much of health and wellness. So much of the importance of real foods have really come and bubbled to the surface that coming out of this. And we will come out of this. Um, I think we're all going to be so much better off.

Marilyn: 8:14

You know, people, you bring up a really valid, strong point. People want to know where their food comes from. They want food, they want real food , and they want something that's also taste delicious and dairy just checks each one of those boxes. It's nutritious, it's something that's going to help their immune system. It's something that's going to, to , uh , you know, it's a, it's a good fat for them, you know, it's going to fill them up. And it really is a nutritious product that , um, that will help them in the future. And so it's , it's, it's nice to be able to give them some nourishment as well.

Phil: 8:53

Absolutely. You know, when I was growing up, obviously my father grew up on a dairy farm. Uh , we always had ice cream in the house and, you know, our neighbors and my parents , friends and whatever else, you know, we'd talk about it . My father said ice cream is a food it's dairy. It is food. So , um, when , when we look at the past, you know, 10 months or so, what are any of the consumer trends that you've seen? Have there been any surprises? You know, for me , uh, the one that's probably the most upsetting and , and I probably shouldn't say this is when people went to supermarkets and when cow's milk was not available and they'd go to oat milk , um , or other plant-based milks. And all of a sudden we saw all the press releases from Nielsen and IRI saying, Oh my God, you know, all these, all these alternatives are growing by leaps and bounds, hundreds of percentages, but it was on such a tiny base. You know, it didn't make a difference. And , and those are the kinds of, of reporting that really annoys me because, you know, that's misleading to the average consumer.

Marilyn: 10:08

I think that probably, so the misleading of information is probably, you know, people are trusting whatever they read on their cell phones and, you know, it's not necessarily fact-based , it's not science-based. And so that's, you know, that's something that we , we really would like to just remind people, you know, let's look at the facts, let's look at, do some research when you see a claim, do some research on it, find out the facts on it. Don't just , uh , point blank belief , something that you read on, on social media , uh , whatever platform, you know , we're using. Um, because it is, it is , uh, that's, you know, people do tend to think that, you know, well, the, the, the other juices are, are growing at such a great rate. They're , they're not in comparison to how, how dairy is being purchased and how daring is , is, you know, dairy is in , uh, 95% of the homes. So 95% of the households have dairy. And then whether they also have , uh , you know, an , an old juice or something like that, they may, you know, they , I think that percentage is up to 40% where people will have both in their refrigerators, but dairy is there.

Phil: 11:25

Yeah. And what's so important is also turning around the package, looking at the nutritional information, reading the ingredients and seeing what's added to a lot of these products. Um, and you know, when it comes to cow's milk, nothing's added nothing.

Marilyn: 11:43

No, and you can't beat the protein. You know, you look at the value and the, and the protein level, that's in a glass of milk and you can't beat. And also,

Phil: 11:54

You know, the naturally occurring sugars versus the added sugars, very important for people understand the difference there.

Marilyn: 12:02

Absolutely. And it's, you know, the digestibility is very important. You know, a glass of milk is, is digested much better and, you know, it nourishes your body the way it should, as opposed to those other , um, beverages that have so much added to them.

Phil: 12:21

So I'd like you to look, and this is a hard question into your crystal ball , um, post COVID what's, the direction that dairy is headed in. And do we have to make any changes to that?

Marilyn: 12:37

Well, I think, you know, I think COVID has shown us. We have, we have to make changes. Um, people want innovation, people want innovative products. People want dairy in new ways and we have to get it to them. We have to be able to have that innovation and handed to them. So, you know, and , and at a much faster pace, okay. So people don't have the patience to wait the years that it takes to develop a product, they want a new product and, you know, they want it now. And so we have to be quicker at our research development. We have to be quicker at our innovation. And that's where I think checkoff is so strong. It's a, it's a promotion, a research board. Um, we do a lot of research and we have to, maybe we have to tweak that research and, and , um, figure out how can we innovate in a much quicker and more sustainable way.

Phil: 13:32

So, last question , um, I've heard a lot about the net zero initiative. What is it who's involved, what's being done and how is it going to benefit us?

Marilyn: 13:46

So the bottom line is net zero net zero is being talked about across the globe. And it is something when I became involved more intently with , um, with FAO, the food and ag organization, I was hearing net zero from a lot of different countries. And I was hearing about different regulations. They were, they were having for net zero and our net zero initiative is really a project that we are trying to move forward that that will allow farmers to move with. It, allow farmers to have input as opposed to a government regulated , um, you know, regulation that's coming down and, and putting asks on farmers that are not reasonable. We want net zero net zero is, is, we're not looking at net zero to be , uh , you know, every single farm across the country will arrive to the net zero , um, initiative, but it's collectively coming together as an industry. So all farms coming together with what we do, we may have some farms that are already are operating at a net zero impact. So, so, you know, they have a zero impact on the, on the environment. We , we may have some farms that, you know, they're not going to be able to do every single new technology that comes down, you know, comes through the pipeline, but it's being able to collectively come together as an industry, all farms working together, not every farm will get there, but every farm can do something. So something as small as you know, a few years ago, Dwayne and I , um, we swapped out the lights in our freestyle barn for led lights. I was blown away with the savings that we had by taking out those higher wattage, light bulbs and putting in led lights. That's a small example, but that is , you know, that's, that's one example we do have , um, in the net zero initiative, we have some farms that we're doing some testing with technology. Those are larger farms as the technology is developed. We hope to scale that back so that , um , it can be used on all sides farmers, but, you know, we have , uh, you know , you could look , we, we need to look at manure as a commodity on our, on our farms. And that's, that's where we, that's where we want to get to not just the net zero project , where we're not contributing, we're contributing less to the environment with our, with our GHGs and our carbon, but also how can that bring a value of financial value back to the farm ?

Speaker 3: 16:33

So a couple of thoughts, number one is what I love about net zero is that the farmer has a seat at the table. So part of it, not only just being able to, as you pointed out, having a regulation that says you have to do this, but really understanding what farmers are looking for and how to execute it a second on a manure a couple of years ago, when I was one of the judges at DMIs innovation awards, I love Cow pots , um , where here's a farmer's daughter who said, okay, I'm going to make pots out of manure that that's going to be able to grow flowers or plants or whatever else, faster, easier, smarter, and whatever else. Um, so I love what you're doing and keep up the great work. And thank you so much for being with us on the Farm Food Facts.

Marilyn: 17:30

Oh, thank you. This has really been a pleasure. So thank you very much.

Speaker 3: 17:35

US Farmers and Ranchers in action would like to recognize the sponsors of the 2020 honor the harvest forum. Our movement sponsors, United soybean board and national pork board. Our presenting sponsors, Wells Fargo, Cargil and DMI. Our Platinum Sponsor the Native American Agriculture Fund. Our Gold sponsors, Bader-Rutter, Bayer, Corteva, Dairy West, Edelman, Ernst & Young, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, frog, McDonald's, Nebraska Soybean Board, and Nutrien. Our Silver Sponsors Cobank and OCP North America. Our bronze sponsor, Nestle Purina. Our Copper Sponsor, Ruan. And our donor sponsor, Tyson. For more on all things, food and agriculture. Please visit Also be sure to look out for us on Facebook at us farmers and ranchers and on Twitter at USFRA until next time.